Of Wondrous Legends is one of the holy grails of unknown acid folk/folk-rock. As the story goes, Stephen Titra had played in various local Chicago groups, the most popular being the Uncalled Four (traditional folk), Rhythm’s Children (garage folk-rock) and of course, the legendary jam band Mountain Bus. Titra left Mountain Bus just before the group gained serious traction, eventually releasing their great Dead-inspired rural psych LP from 1971. Of Wondrous Legends was recorded at Universal Recording Inc. in 1971. Titra tried shopping the final product around to labels such as Elektra, Fantasy, A&M, Capital and RCA but there were no takers. Many of the record label A&R reps found O.W.L’s music hard to market, claiming the music was not commercial enough and that no one song on the LP stood out as a potential single. This music is hard to categorize as it doesn’t fit into any comfortable niche. The only reason this music was reissued is because Dawson Prater found one of the few pressings (maybe the only pressing!) of O.W.L in a Chicago thift store in the mid 2000’s.
The O.W.L. project sounds nothing like Mountain Bus. Titra had been playing many of these songs live as early as 1967-1968. By the time he entered the studio many of his creations were fully developed and ready to record. Of Wondrous Legends holds a midground between the Left Banke (think “Shadows Breaking Over My Head” ) and Pearls Before Swine’s superb The Use Of Ashes LP. There are no sitars, psychedelic effects, feedback, crazed electric guitar solos or distorted vocals. Titra, vocals and guitars, is backed by a host of other musical instruments which include vibes, marimba, flute, alto, cello, drums, bass, piano, moog, mandolin and assorted horns. If anything, the album’s production gives it a psychedelic feel.
The album is very strong and highly recommended to those who are into “progressive folk.” “Upon The Wings Of Gabriel” and “A Tale Of A Crimson “Knight” are powerful slices of acid folk that have spacey production values – these tracks are not to be missed by psych fans. “Be Alive” is what the Left Banke might have sounded like had they progressed into the early 70s albeit with more of a folk-rock approach to their music. O.W.L.’s most progressive piece, the dreamy eight and a half minute “Midnight Carnival,” is another intricate piece of music whose lyrics deal with unity and chaos. Finally, “Sunsets Of Smiles,” the closing track, is a very pretty folk song that feels much less produced when compared to the numbers that precede it.
Overview: Many of the chamber orchestrations are complex, giving O.W.L.’s music a lush, arty feel. This is certainly a unique, one of a kind album. The production is amazing but Titra’s vocals, arrangements and songwriting ability are also top notch. 4 out of 5 stars – excellent music and an important discovery.
Reissue | 2008 | Locust | buy ]